Columnist in Lebanon, Missouri paper gives ringing endorsement to principal’s illegal speech (and disses evolution)

June 8, 2014 • 8:02 am

Katie Hilton is a columnist for the Lebanon [Missouri] Daily Record.  In her latest op-ed, “Hats off for Lowery!“, she espouses every sentiment that shows the problems of that intolerant, faith-soaked town. I’ll reproduce her column in full, interspersed with my own comments in bold.

Katie Hilton

Screen shot 2014-06-07 at 4.24.12 PM

A tip of the mortarboard to Lebanon High School Principal Kevin Lowery. His introductory speech at commencement included a moment of silence, for which he has been forced to apologize.

Nope, he was forced to apologize not for having a moment of silence, which is legal, but for what Hilton describes next, which is illegal. Oh, and FYI, where do you get the idea that Lowery was “forced to apologize.” The only statement he’s made about his “apology,” such as it is, notes that he apologized of his own free will.  Do you have other sources for your information?

Lowery told the audience that he used his moment to pray for the students, thanked God for them, their parents, teachers and the community, and asked God to protect them in the future. A University of Chicago professor who saw part of the remarks on YouTube declared Lowery’s talk was “clearly a violation of the First Amendment.”

Nonsense. You can view the supposedly objectionable portion of Lowery’s remarks here:

It’s not nonsense; it’s settled case law. If you doubt that, read the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s letter of complaint to the Lebanon School Superintendent and School Board. 

Dr. Jerry A. Coyne, an evolutionary biologist trained at Harvard, has a blog called “Why Evolution Is True,” also the title of his most recent book. He posted his first rant against Lowery May 31, along with a letter to Dr. Duane Widhalm and the school board.

“Lowery’s behavior during that graduation ceremony is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, and of court decisions that prayer in public schools by officials of those schools is illegal,” Coyne claimed. “Apparently, by making a public display of his faith, Mr. Lowery wished to voice his disdain for those rulings, and for our Constitution.”

I think Dr. Coyne should stick to monkeys and their uncles. You can judge for yourself.

Here we see the first hint that perhaps Ms. Hilton isn’t down with modern evolutionary science. “Monkeys and their uncles”? Really? This makes me wonder whether Lebanon High School even teaches evolution, or whether they sneak in intelligent design or other forms of creationism. Perhaps one of the several LHS students who reads this site can tell us. 

The First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Lowery clearly isn’t Congress, nor did he establish any religion at commencement. He did exercise his right to pray during the moment of silence that he requested, and he did exercise his right to free speech when he shared what he had chosen to pray.

This is breathtaking inanity.  Lowery doesn’t have to be “Congress” to violate the Constitution! All he has to do is be a government official who tries to promulgate religion in the organs of government.  He is and he did.  The courts have clearly established that “free speech” does not include an official’s right to pray to a captive high-school audience at official events—like graduation. This has been decided by the courts over and over again.  When I read stuff so blatantly ignorant and self-serving, I wonder whether Ms. Hilton really understands the issues, or that she does but is just ignoring them. Like a good theologian interpreting the Bible, she picks and chooses from the Constitution what she wants to see. Unfortunately for Hilton, the courts consistently disagree with her interpretation. Her take on the Constitution is like a garden-variety Catholic telling people what official Church dogma is, despite the Vatican saying otherwise.

Coyne was satirized in February as “censor of the year” by the Discovery Institute. According to the institute’s website, Coyne and the Freedom From Religion Foundation caused Ball State University to ban teaching the scientific theory of intelligent design. ID is a theory that contradicts Coyne’s Darwinism.

“The scientific theory” of intelligent design? Here again we see hints that Ms. Hilton rejects evolution as it’s accepted by scientists (not just “Coyne”). If the people of Lebanon want to parade their ignorance of evolution as visibly as they parade their ignorance of Constitutional law, by all means let them, for they only make themselves look like ignoramuses. 


Truly, the Lebanon Daily Record should be embarrassed to have someone with this degree of acumen as a columnist, but sentiments like these are what we’ve come to expect from the Lowery-boosters.  In effect, they are encouraging violations of the law, and I suspect they know it.  And they haven’t learned to think for themselves, for they simply fall in line with the sentiments of the religious and of the small-town boosters so ably depicted by Sinclair Lewis in Main Street.

There is only one comment after Hilton’s article, and it opposes her. I’ve just added another (I don’t know if it will be approved) using the eloquent words of Christopher Hitchens as reproduced by reader Harry in yesterday’s comments. My own comment is addressed to the young folk of Lebanon, as was Harry’s.

If you’d like to weigh in on Hilton’s editorial, you can go here to do it. If you do comment, please be polite! We don’t want to act like the citizens of Lebanon.

Also, as reader Barry notes below:

By the way, if you click on “Home” after reading the dreadful article, there is a poll about this issue with two options. It looks like the goddies are dominating right now.

The poll is at the bottom right of the “home” page (you have to go to the article first and then, as Barry says, click “home”). Here are the results when I voted:

Screen shot 2014-06-08 at 11.23.27 AM

85 thoughts on “Columnist in Lebanon, Missouri paper gives ringing endorsement to principal’s illegal speech (and disses evolution)

  1. Even as a person from the UK, and not one who is overly-familiar with Constitutional matters, I can tell she is way of the mark. It’s pathetic wilful ignorance.


    1. “Like a good theologian interpreting the Bible, she picks and chooses from the Constitution what she wants to see. Unfortunately for Hilton, the courts consistently disagree with her interpretation.”

      These types of Christians don’t just pick and choose from the Constitution but also from judicial rulings. In their eyes the rulings they don’t like are the result of activist liberal judges willfully misinterpreting the Constitution.

  2. This is the most disappointing statement to come out of the whole affair. ID is a scam. The fact that people can’t see through something so transparent does not bode well for our society’s future.

        1. And the cheap tuxedo has been thrown on the floor of the motor lodge, while the trembling teenager who wore it to prom gets his first personal anatomy lesson.

    1. I’m currently dealing with an ID’er in a biology class at secular university. He rants and rages about ID not being a part of our class or a part of public school curriculum. I am, so far, the only one who will address him on the issue which I find a bit disappointing.

  3. A moment of silence is legal because it is silent. Lowery’s comments after the moment of silence were not silent. This is not complicated law.

    And I wonder how fast these “free speech” advocates would flip their positions if a Mulim, Hindu, or atheist official tried the same sophomoric trick to espouse their views on religion at a public school event.

    1. Having–finally–listened to Lowery, at the link given in Hilton’s column, I’m wondering why so many of us are only referencing what Lowery said after the infamous moment of silence? What he said before that was even worse, IMHO.

      1. Indeed. A mere sermon whose essential point is to draw an us (good God fearing Americans) vs them (un-American unbelievers) distinction.

        Always thinking of others, those Christians are.

  4. My comment there, which seems to have been posted; we’ll see if it lasts:

    Ms. Hilton, the United States Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly and consistently not only that people acting in official government capacities are prohibited from endorsing or hindering religious practice, but that especially applies to public schools — and even students themselves when acting on behalf of the school.

    Wikipedia has references to the cases:

    Note in particular that Lee v Weisman prohibited prayer at graduation ceremonies — and, in that case, it was a Rabbi delivering the prayer, so it wasn’t a case of anti-Christian sentiment from the Court.

    Ever since Lemon v Kurtzman, a three-pronged “Lemon test” has become the standard by which these sorts of things are judged. For an action to be Constitutional, it must not result in “excessive entanglement” of government and religion; it must not advance nor inhibit religious practice; and it must have a secular purpose. If even one of those tests fails, the action is not Constitutional and therefore prohibited.

    Principal Lowery conferred the blessings of his own Christian god upon the graduates. You may well agree with him that his Christian god is the only god there is, but in conferring those blessings he entangled his official position as a public school principal with the sectarian beliefs of a particular religion.

    And he clearly was acting to advance those sectarian beliefs — plus we’ve heard from students who have felt that their own different religious beliefs were hindered by his very Christian speech.

    And there can be no secular purpose in conferring the blessings of any deity upon somebody; it is a purely religious activity.

    Where but a single failure of any prong of the Lemon Test is enough to identify an action as unconstitutional, Lowery’s prayerful blessings managed to very clearly violate all three prongs. There is not a court in this country that will tolerate such behavior by a public school official acting in his official capacity.

    Mr. Lowery is welcome to grab a bullhorn and preach the Gospel in the middle of the town square. If there is a church that will have him — and I rather suspect there is — then he’s also welcome to preach the Gospel from the pulpit. And he can pray in silence whenever and wherever he so chooses — so long, of course, that he doesn’t get so caught up in prayer that he doesn’t see the light has changed and runs through the intersection.

    What he’s not permitted to do is to engage in religious practices while he’s acting on behalf of the government.

    You and he as devout Christians should be in full support of this “Wall of Separation” as Jefferson called it. I’m sure that you’re aware that not everybody across the country shares your religious beliefs, and I’m equally sure that you don’t want those who disagree with you who happen to be public school officials using their own positions of power to indoctrinate students placed in their care. Would you not be at least a bit upset to learn of an a Muslim principal offering Allah’s blessings upon graduates at one school, or an Hindu principal blessing students in the name of Haruman the monkey god at another school, or of a god-free principal telling her students that the gods are all faery tales and they should grow out of such nonsense already?

    That’s the bargain that was made a couple centuries ago: rather than have battles over which religion gets the official seal of approval, no religion would get that honor, and all religions would be equally free to flourish or wither on their own without government intervention.

    Besides, if you truly believe in the truth and value of your own religion, you don’t need it to be crammed down students’s throats at their graduation ceremony. And if churches and street corners really are insufficient to persuade students thirsty for knowledge of the truth of your religion, doesn’t that say something about how unbelievable it really is?



    1. I riffed on yours when I wrote mine, which is still in moderation:

      Oh dear Ms Hilton, you seem to understand evolution and the scientific meaning of theory as well as you understand constitutional law, which is not very well. As other commenters have pointed out, the Supreme Court has ruled many times on cases just like these and they interpret the constitution in the exact opposite way you do. As beloved as a principle as Mr. Lowery is, he is in violation of the law and he should stop this behavior at once (many commenters on other articles and social media sites have pointed out that this was not the first time he has done this).
      Finally, Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory but religion gussied up to look like science. There was a famous court case that ruled on that one too. You may want to read what Judge John E. Jones III said in his closing arguments here:
      I hope you take the time to educate yourself on these matters so you will be better positioned to report on cases such as these in the future.

      1. I thought about addressing Evolution and Dover, but figured I already had written more than most people would read. I’m glad you covered that missing link.


        1. I’ve posted there, too:

          In light of what you’ve written, I have to wonder whether you actually understand evolution, a well-supported scientific explanation for the history of life on earth; it appears to me that you are attacking a straw man. I do think it is the responsibility of a reporter to understand what he or she discusses, reports on, or denigrates. More to the point, as Young and Strode said at the end of their book “Why Evolution Works (and Why Creationism Fails),” “We heartily recommend that anyone who criticizes evolutionary biology first learn about it.”

          Have you read Dr. Coyne’s book, “Why Evolution is True”? It lays out the multiple, convergent lines of evidence for evolution in a manner easily accessible to the non-specialist. I highly recommend it to your attention. Best Wishes.

          1. And if Ms. Hilton finds books by atheists unreliable, she should try Only a Theory by Ken Miller, no atheist he.

            1. But he’s a Catholic. If Ms. Hilton is an evangelical protestant, she will see little or no difference.

  5. i would have never guessed that this esteemed pulitzer prize winner would have given an opinion on this matter.
    i am sure her reaction would have been the same if a hindu or muslim or jew or rastafarian had chimed in and demanded to prey, spelling intentional, upon the graduates.
    i have contacted the almighty FSM about demanding a speaking spot on the next graduation from nursery school.
    a tip of the strainer to all…

  6. I guess Katie Hilton was afraid the bandwagon would pass her by before she could jump on. Her column is a nice blend of untruths, misdirection and dog whistles.
    I like the tack that Jerry took in quoting Hitchens rather than dismantling her writing in his comment there. Having heard/read that as a teenager would have given me a new outlook and hope.

  7. By the way, if you click on “Home” after reading the dreadful article, there is a poll about this issue with two options. It looks like the goddies are dominating right now.

    1. I didn’t see it until I searched the page for the word “poll”. Kind of obscure. Currently, after my vote, the goddies are at 81%.

      But, of course, Internet polls like this are completely meaningless.

  8. I posted remarks at the link to the Lebanon Record, closing with this bit from today’s FFRF notable birthday email of the day:

    … (novelist V. I.) Paretsky spoke on Freethought Radio on June 2, 2011, about her family’s protest of a mandatory Christian revival at her public high school. She said: “The local paper published their names and their phone number and urged people to call them and tell them to go back where they came from, which was southern Illinois for my father and Brooklyn, New York, for my mother. It is amazing to me how quickly people can be stirred to behave in really vile ways, even though they may most of the time be warm and loving and decent people.”

    Richard Olson

  9. You have to remember that, in a small town like Lebanon, ANYONE can be a “newspaper columnist”.

    1. As a regular reader of NYT I’m pretty sure your observation should not be limited to small town papers.

  10. Sad. Ms. Hilton (and Mr. Lowery’s supporters) don’t understand the concepts they’re talking about (Evolution and Constitutional Law) and worse, they don’t care to understand. Willful ignorance. How does one combat that?

  11. I’m actually somewhat impressed that all of the drubbing that this Ms Hilton is receiving (well deserved!) is still posted as comments. At the moment, there seems to be someone at the newspaper with integrity.

    1. This is what the newspaper editor had posted on a facebook page, although not on this subject. Please don’t think anyone at that newspaper has any integrity. BTW, this is the same forum that his newspaper supports.

      “Ken York Please just ignore the forum, STG. There’s 15 or 20 guys sitting around in their parents’ basements in last week’s underwear, slobbering and typing on the forum. Everyone with any self respect spurns the place.”

  12. Personal anecdote, only 12 hours old:

    I was at a cast party last night, for a community theater production of “INHERIT THE WIND.” I play “Meeker” the court bailiff. I got into a conversation with a woman in the cast who plays one of the fervently fundie locals, and lo and behold, she proceeded to tell me how she had attended a public school and used to argue with her science teacher, positing that creationism should be taught right along with evolution, a position she still maintains.

    Mouth agape, I privately wondered why she’d want to be in a play that derides creationism so. I began to explain to her the problems with the constitutionality of such a curriculum in a science class, and the differences between religious notions of a “special creation” and the science behind evolution, but we were mercifully interrupted by general hootings and hollerings that go along with a cast party of 40+. It is still morning in Oregon, but I cannot shake that conversation from my skull. Matinee at 2 PM.

  13. A principal declares a moment of silence at assembly, then proceeds to give his thoughts during that moment, which are a campaign speech for a pro-abortion liberal democrat running for congress. Allowed?

  14. First can I say that I am happy that this woman is being thoroughly put to rights in the comments.

    Second I’d like to say that I love the irony that these people would just love to have free reign to preach to a captive audience of school kids. You know, like the way that they can in the UK where the schools turn out atheists and indifferents. Anyone who takes religion seriously here is looked upon as being mentally defective. Be careful what you wish for Lebanites. Actually, scratch that, religion is poisonous drivel that you would be better off without.

    Oh yes, nearly forgot. You got slated by The Discovery institute. This reminds me of a quote attributed to British politician Norman Tebbit.

    “Don’t judge a man by his friends, judge him by his enemies. I’m very proud of my enemies.”

  15. Ah yes, the Dishonesty Institute. Purveyors of evolution denialism, climate change denialism, cigarette smoking/lung cancer denialism, CFCs/ozone depletion denialism, HIV/AIDS denialism, and Holocaust revisionism.

  16. Don’t be surprised if the comments are deleted, they delete them all the time. They censor quite heavily.

    1. It seems odd that, at the moment, at least, (21 comments), there is not a single comment supporting the column.

      1. It seems odd that, at the moment, at least, (21 comments), there is not a single comment supporting the column.

        Most if not all of them are from WEiT regulars, though.

      2. Not too surprising given that WEIT gets more hits per day than there are people in Lebanon, Missouri.

      3. Perhaps they were too busy in church today. Some denominations make them stay all day to wash away their numerous sins. Somehow they always forget to wash away the hubris though.

      4. Why hasn’t the columnist responded? She has posted on the newspaper forum, just this afternoon.

      5. Because the principal’s trick is just a transparent dodge to get around the law.
        I could respect saying, the law is unjust, it oppresses me, I will now break it and asked that it be enforced against me. But that ain’t what happened.

        If the principal can do this, then as I showed in one of those comments above, he can smuggle anything in. Even things repulsive to the citizens of Hebron.

        The principle was sneaky, rude, and a scoff-law. It surprises you we disapprove?

  17. Perhaps you should donate a couple copies of “Why Evolution Is True” to Lebanon High School’s library and the Lebanon city library.

    I’d be happy to chip in to this educational cause.

    1. I cynically speculate that the life of said books would be short and nasty. Nothing as creative as hammering nails through them, though.

      1. So we can have a youtube video of the “City of Lebanon” book burning.

        In fact, just tracking what happens to those two books would make an interesting story.

  18. I just put my 2 cents worth in. The “not the right place or time” was up to 39% but still lagging behind.

  19. Kudos to all the WEIT regulars who so eloquently schooled the dear Ms. Hilton. I had a great comment all planned out in my head, however it became quickly apparent that mine just could not compete.

  20. The poll is now running almost exactly 50/50.

    I see the most recent commenter is “PangurBantheCat”. Do we have a Fay Sampson fan among us?

  21. Ah, the flawed and, possibly, delusional thinking that Intelligent Design and Creationism are supported by science.
    My own delusional belief in the supernatural, paranormal and all things ‘new age” came to an abrupt end when I was prescribed anti-psychotic medication.
    I sometimes wonder if those who believe and certainly those who have visions would benefit from such medication??

  22. If a child or young adult is not religious and is asked to pray during school it is a painful experience to endure. It must seem extraordinary that this could be the case for those who are religious, but the occasion is like torture for the non-religious student.

    Why can’t Lebanon community see how painful public prayer can be? It is not only impolite but insecure to pray in public.

    1. The Christians of Lebanon merely need to imagine what it would be like for them if they lived in the Islamic world, where school prayers to Allah in the name of Mohammad are the rule. Would they tell their children to join the prayers rather than risk the wrath of the local community? Would Jesus forgive them, knowing their hearts remain pure, or will he damn them for not trusting him and following the path he’s set before them?

      Such are the dilemmas non-Christian religious students in Lebanon face.


  23. Jerry, since you’ve been quoted and mentioned, why not ask if they will publish a column by you in reply?

    1. I think it would be a hoot of Jerry were invited to give next year’s commencement address, so he could show them how secular is done. I know of course there is no way that would every happen. They’d be selling make believe snow cones in their make believe hell first. It’s just that the idea that someone with strong views on religion could obey the law when speaking to students would melt their brains.

  24. Well it looks like the poll is swinging in the right direction now.

    Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth that poll was invaded by folks “not from round here”. It’s the Internet, deal with it!

  25. Added my two cents over there (couldn’t resist a reference to the Shawshank Redemption either):

    Ms. Hilton,

    There was a time I was proudly offered my “enlightened” opinion to people who accept the scientific fact of evolution using some of the very same straw men you use in your article. The problem when you attack a straw man is you are attacking a characterization that you have built yourself and have not addressed any issues regarding the subject you claim to be attacking.

    There came a point where I realized these same charges of bullying that some of your fellow citizens are lobbying towards atheists were also without merit. I came to realize that there are scientists, such as Jerry Coyne, as well as many scientifically literate lay people, who do an excellent job explaining the nuances of evolution in an understandable way; and, in the world of open discourse and rational thinking, bullying does not have a place at the table on any side of an issue.

    Go, read some books; find out what the science actually says. If this doesn’t comport with your faith based beliefs, then you have a decision to make. To believe something without evidence does not make it untrue, nor does it validate it. But, to believe something without evidence for which there is direct contradictory evidence puts one in an utterly untenable position. The latter applies to both your understanding of the Constitution, established case law pertaining to it, and Evolutionary Biology.

    Come, chisel away at the walls, it’s not a short process, it’s not an easy process, but when you swim through the river of anti-intellectualism and come out clean on the other side, it’s a feeling of freedom like no other, a feeling of freedom that makes the petty semantic arguments Mr. Lowery attempts in its place shrivel away in lieu of actual liberty; it’s the feeling the Founding Fathers had in mind when they established this great country with the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    1. Very nice. Succinct, yet covers all the bases quite adequately. Might even wriggle in and find a place to nest and fester and work a bit of change in time. Or not. Belief can be most impenetrable.

    1. Wow, didn’t go through all 9 pages, but based on my random sample, there’s not a single person on that board that comprehends what the issue is. They all seem to think it is whining about taking offense to Mr. Lowery’s opinions.

  26. I noticed Katie also wrote a column “Hats off to Moms.” Xian bigotry is one thing, but why the hated toward hats?

Leave a Reply